The Academy announced the honorees for this year’s Governors Awards, those stuffy old buzzkills who have been relegated to a separate, non-televised awards dinner for the past several years. Honorary Awards will be presented to actor James Earl Jones and make-up artist Dick Smith, while the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award will given to…Oprah Winfrey.
Now stop – before we get into a fuss over the idea of Oprah Winfrey receiving an honorary Oscar before presumed candidates like Christopher Lee, Angela Lansbury, Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day, Leslie Caron, Charles Durning or Catherine Deneuve – remember that the Hersholt Humanitarian Award is NOT a recognition of one’s on-screen work (like with Jones or Smith), or even of one’s impact on the medium in general (like historian Kevin Brownlow, one of last year’s honorees). The Hersholt is exactly what it sounds like: it is given “to an individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.”
Look, she’s not Meryl Streep or anything, but Oprah has had a marginal film acting career (“The Color Purple,” “Beloved,” “The Princess and the Frog”) and has been expanding her role as a producer of late (“The Great Debaters,” “Precious”). Though she may be obviously more renowned for her TV work, she is still “an individual in the motion picture industry,” and I don’t think anyone can argue against her work as a philanthropist/humanitarian. So I’m not going to bitch about it like many of my fellow cinephiles already are doing, even if it is somewhat of an injustice that Liv Ullmann remains Oscar-less while Oprah collects another trinket for her mantel.
Anyway, James Earl Jones is obviously deserving for a long career of fantastic character work, from his debut in “Dr. Strangelove” to “Field of Dreams,” “Coming to America,” “The Hunt for Red October” and “Patriot Games,” to his Oscar-nominated role in “The Great White Hope,” to his legendary voice work as Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” trilogy and Mufasa in “The Lion King.”
Meanwhile, Dick Smith is hardly a household name, but you know his work; he was well known for very realistically aging his actors (see: Dustin Hoffman in “Little Big Man,” Marlon Brando in “The Godfather”), and also did fantastic work for “The Exorcist” and “Taxi Driver.” He won a Best Makeup Oscar for “Amadeus,” where, again, he made an extremely convincing old man out of F. Murray Abraham.
The real question regarding this announcement is, how much recognition will these honorees receive at the actual Oscar ceremony? The obligatory 10 seconds of applause? Or will Oprah’s involvement mean that the show’s producers might be more inclined to give the Honorary Oscars a second chance? After all, if they’re really concerned about ratings, you don’t get opportunities like this handed to you every year. I’ll be anything that we see the Governors Awards played up more than ever.